‘Why would you want to go to Patna? It is very poor and uneducated.”
This was the first question and description of the Southern Indian city that I was on my way to stay in for the week.
I’m not overly sure of what I was expecting, making the journey back to India after 9 months of my last venture here. Maybe I thought it would be the same as last time, maybe I thought it would be harsher, or maybe it would be so far from anything I imagined that it would feel like a different country again, rather than just a bigger city.
The poverty could quite literally be seen from the sky. Or not seen as it were, due to the lack of lights across the city, outskirts and even the runway we were coming into land on. Having flown from London, across Europe, and then to Dehli, we had encountered various different levels of money, luxury and minds numb to the status quo. When did we all get so much further ahead in the game to be blind to those lagging behind? There are still children out there playing with a stick and cd wheel stuck to the end of it. Ignorant bliss.
One thing that I was happy to see again, was that being hosted in India was still a first class experience. With the little that people have to offer, they offer the best they can. Everyday we were there, 3 meals a day were served up for us, hot, homemade, and with more than enough to go around. We were given accommodation in a church, run by Pastors Sanjit and Shardin. Whilst I’m not religious myself, Christianity heavily influenced my upbringing. It was an experience in itself for me to be living in a building made to worship a God that I don’t pray to, worship, or follow, yet be hosted by two families who do and who make it known. Although I wasn’t pressured to make any show of faith, I was surrounded by many who happily do and it was oddly comforting to come in after time in the city surrounded by dangers that I don’t face in my own day to day life and rest in a familiar feeling. Maybe there is a piece of me that recognised the feeling of sanctuary.
On my previous stay in India, I’d lived in a small slum school in Lucknow. I didn’t explore outside the compound we were in – for one, we didn’t have the time, and also it was unsafe. This time around we travelled around tuktuk to tuktuk exploring the different areas in the incredibly crowded city. The novelty of being a white British, blonde girl wore off in an instant due to the looks from multiple local men that I can only describe as being animalistic. On one occasion, one man watched us at a very uncomfortable range outside of a shop, at first he intently watched as dad put money away into his pocket, and then he noticed me behind and stood staring for so long that the guys with us moved in front of me as protection and a signal to the man to move off. I don’t know how the local girls and women put up with it, or if they even notice anymore, but it became crystal clear about how scary, intent, and even primal the men can be. It brought home the reason we were there- to empower women to get out of uncomfortable and highly dangerous situations like this. The first statement about the poverty and lack of education came to light.
There was a definite difference between the two journeys this year, and I couldn’t say that one was better than the other, but neither one was like the other. For me, this trip around was harder, mentally, physically and also emotionally. There felt like a lot of tension between some of our group, and I let that play on my mind. I didn’t lose focus of my job, or my reasons for being there, but no matter how many new things come to pass and need to be processed, there is naturally always normal life that fills your head too. And it did. India is a harsh place, and the stress, poverty, extortion and daily dangers that people live with, are in your face all the time. It’s a lot to take in.
There was an odd and misplaced sense of riches in Patna and the surrounding villages.
In the realest term of the words, Patna is poor and malnourished, but those words don’t cover what I felt. It was dismal, and the quality of life out there is appalling. Yet the areas themselves, with the trees, crops, and everything natural aside from the water (The fresh water that could be seen was used, unfiltered, for EVERYTHING that you need water for..), everything was beautiful, and the colours were rich. It goes to show that what you focus on grows and there is beauty in even the darkest places if you look for it. It brought a feeling that overwhelmed and confused me. I’ve included some pictures below to show the nature, a few little faces, and also the litter that covers the roads. To this day I can’t find the right words to describe how the contrast between the livelihoods and nature stand.
Here is a list with couple of things that I would recommend packing to go with you if you take a trip to a poorer area of the city and some things that I couldn’t do with out ..
Wipes of every type.. baby/body, face, hand, antibact’, exfoliating, the lot!
Probiotic tablets and multivitamins
These are things that we all found none of us would have survived without!